Obama To Deliver Health Care Talk To Congress

President Obama is to give a major address on health care to joint session of Congress on Sept. 9. He is expected to add details to what he wants from a overhaul of the nation's health care system.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams back at my favorite microphone several days later.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And it's great to have you back here, Noah. I'm Robert Siegel.

And President Barack Obama has decided to jump back into the health care debate in a big way. The White House said this afternoon that next Wednesday night, Mr. Obama will address a joint session of Congress. Joint sessions are extremely rare. Each of the past two presidents, President Bush and President Clinton, only gave two in their eight years in office.

NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here to tell us more. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Does this scheduling of a joint session address mean that President Obama acknowledges that perhaps he's losing support and losing control of the health care issue?

LIASSON: Yes. The joint session is about as loud as the bully pulpit gets. He's using it now because health care is in trouble. Plan A for the White House was to get a bill out of both houses of Congress before the August recess. And then the president would get actively involved when they went to conference to be merged. But that didn't happen. Over the August recess, the number of people supporting the Obama health reform proposals dropped. The number of people thinking he was doing a good job also dropped.

And the irony of this is that up until now, there really hasn't been an Obama health care plan. There have been just a set of broad principles and then there have been these congressional proposals. So he's going to finally embrace a plan.

SIEGEL: Next week we're going to hear the Obama - that's what you expect him to do?

LIASSON: Yes, I do. There are going to be a lot of specifics. The White House said today he wants to clear up the confusion. And there is a tremendous amount of confusion on the part of people about what exactly a plan would be. He said - they say that at the end of this speech, the average American with insurance is going to have their questions answered.

Questions like: How much will I have to pay for my health insurance if I'm - if I don't - if I have to go out and buy it in the marketplace by myself? Whether there'll be an individual mandate, and the answer to that one is: Yes. He will also explain how it will be paid for, how it will be deficit neutral and then he will list all of the insurance reforms - making insurance coverage portable, stable. You won't be denied if you have a pre-existing condition. Some of this he said before.

As he has said over and over again, on 80 percent of this effort, there is actually consensus. It's the 20 percent that's very difficult. And that's where he's going to have to make some pretty significant decisions - decide where he thinks the center of the debate is, where a passable bill is. And that's where he's going to have to say something about a public option - does he want one, how robust should it be on taxes and on other difficult issues.

SIEGEL: Mara, do you get the impression that this is an address aimed at winning some bipartisan support for a health care overhaul or just getting the Democrats in both chambers behind the president and the public behind them?

LIASSON: My sense from the conversations I had at the White House today is they are no longer looking for bipartisan support in the sense of the 70 or 80 votes in the Senate. They're really talking about 60 votes - the votes it will take to break a filibuster for at least the filibusterable part of this bill. They would like to get Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins on board. They feel that Charles Grassley and Mike Enzi, the two Republicans who've been part of this gang of six in this on the Senate Finance Committee negotiating it have basically bailed out. They're gone.

SIEGEL: So, maximum two Republican senators, you say?

LIASSON: Probably two Republican senators. But they need all of their Democrats - and that's also a tall order.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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